Erasure III: The secret to learning languages and writing novels

I wanted to provide a quick update on what has become a series of reflections. It all started with this post about reflecting on the past and feeling free to make mistakes in the future. I also resolved to start studying Portuguese. Then there was a follow up about studying Portuguese on a trip to Montreal and being inspired to switch gears and study French, which I did as I made plans to travel to Brazil. Oops.

Anyone here speak French? No? Ok, cool…

So what has happened since then, and what mistakes am I making now? Spoiler alert: lots!

It’s been about five years since my last Erasure update, and a LOT has happened. In those five years I have:

  • Started at beginner level one and completed intermediate-level French classes
  • Received a travel grant to visit Brazil twice, and wrote a novel based on those experiences
  • Wrote another novel, and had some stories published
  • Returned to seriously studying Portuguese, and finally started to make some progress with my conversational skills
  • Passed the Canadian citizenship test (now just waiting for the call to take the oath of citizenship!)

That’s one bullet-point per year! And what have I learned from all this?

Mistakes were made! And there was a lot of lateral movement. But, if I had to do it over again, I don’t know that I would erase anything (No regrets!). Sure, it would have made more sense to study French before going to Montreal, then switch to studying Portuguese before going to Brazil, but that wasn’t where my path led me. I needed to visit those places to feel inspired.

Peut-être we can practice some Portuguese? Non? Desculpa, tchau!

I’ve learned that to make things happen in my life I need to be motivated, whether it’s writing or learning a language. Actually, I think motivation is the most important component of anything I’ve accomplished. I need to be realistic and kind to myself. If I don’t feel motivated, I need to take a break and look for ways to motivate myself rather than pushing through something I’m not motivated to do, because that leads to frustration and giving up. Maybe being indecisive can be a good thing? Or maybe not? I can’t decide. I’ve learned there’s no erasing the past, even the mistakes. So I’m only looking forward from now on, building on the decisions I’ve made—even the bad ones.

As I continue to study and write, I’m more motivated than ever before to work toward my goals and see them through. Even if I need to take a break or switch gears for a while, I know that writing and language are things I care deeply about and will always find the motivation to prioritize in my life, even if I need to step away now and then to find my motivation again.

If you have goals that you’re not reaching, ask yourself if you’re feeling motivated, and if not, what do you feel motivated to do? Maybe it’s time to shift gears, or take a step back and look for that inspiration again.

Both writing and language learning take a lot of dedication and persistence. So find your driving force, whether you call it motivation, inspiration, passion, or your muse. A dream isn’t enough. It’s a goal, an objective—what you need is the desire and energy to focus on moving forward a little each day, to be motivated to continue pushing through until those dreams come into focus.

Transformation

I made it all the way to #DareToExcel Challenge 2! I honestly didn’t know if I’d make it this far, but I’m enjoying the prompts as they’re helping me explore something that’s been weighing on me lately.

Challenge 2 is to answer several questions to create a project brief.

Project Title: (a tentative title is fine)

Transformation

Since writing up the question from Challenge 1, I’ve clung to the metaphors of Brahma and Shiva as a way to understand the black_hole_interstellarforces of creation and destruction. What really stands out to me is the idea of the cycle. Destruction is not necessarily negative, it is the spark of Transformation.

The Problem: State the problem you’re wanting to pursue in one sentence.

The problem is that creativity has taken my time, energy and money, and left me with less than I started with.

The Feeling: Articulate the feeling that you’re driven to give shape to through this project. 

The feeling is a bitterness toward creativity, like it owes me something for all I’ve sacrificed to it. The sacrifice of time and money — three years and thousands of dollars for an MFA which has resulted in a debt larger than my annual income (by the time I pay it off, it will be more than double my annual income.) This is just one example, but prioritizing creativity has left me feeling sour in a lot of ways. It’s not only money. It’s the time I’ve spent writing (time that I could have invested in friends and family, building my resume, or learning other skills.) I’ve been in a creative rut lately, where the very idea of creation makes me feel exhausted and defeated. I’m hoping the Dare To Excel challenge can help me figure out a positive way to balance my life.

Wonder & Curiosity: What are you curious about in relation to this project?

I’m curious to explore what I have gained from creativity, why I can’t give it up, and how I can learn to value it again. To realize how it has transformed me. As far as wonder goes, I guess I am in awe of the strength of the force of creativity, how I am compelled to answer to it no matter how many times I try to push it away. I have given writing up for good 3 times in the past year. Each time I began a new short story a few hours later.

Of Mirrors and Rainbows: thoughts on being yourself

So I came across this really excellent article on IGN yesterday about how gay characters do exist in video games, but are always minor characters, just like in most other forms of media.

It got me thinking about a couple things:

1- There is this idea that well meaning, generally accepting straight people toss around that seems to be prevalent today, this idea that sexuality doesn’t matter. The heart of this statement is in the right place, but it feels like a punch in the gut to a gay person. Here’s why:

Saying sexuality doesn’t matter is saying it doesn’t affect us, the way we live our lives and who we have struggled to become. It says our struggle to fight to love ourselves enough to be ourselves despite a culture that says we are freaks at worst and comedic sidekicks at best doesn’t matter. And most of all what hurts is that it says that our pain, our torment, and suffering at being judged, hated and threatened doesn’t matter. Even though, thankfully, it isn’t as common today, you don’t think you’d live your life differently if you knew there was some chance you may be attacked physically or verbally for holding your spouse’s hand in public, or even casually bringing them up in conversation? It matters.

double-alaskan-rainbow

2-I’ve heard so many people say, I’m a writer (insert any profession) and I’m gay (insert any minority status), but I don’t want to be a gay writer. Really? If you are not yourself then you are no one. If you don’t embrace and love yourself, no one will love you. Sure, some people will judge you for being true to yourself, but others will love you. The real you, and you can’t be true to yourself, find your story, tell your story if you reject a part of yourself. So be a gay writer, or a Christian writer, or a black lawyer, or a Muslim model, or whatever the hell you are. Be yourself. Love yourself. Tell your story.

Catching the Express Train from Point A to Point B

My sister has a really cool blog called Writer.Mom where she writes about motherhood and writing and the many connections she finds between the two. I haven’t been inspired to blog in forever, and her blog got me thinking that I should do sort of an homage post to get back into it. I’m not a mother, but I think day to day life has connections to writing no matter your place in life.

I’ve been thinking about this because writing is always sort of a cathartic, fulflilling act for me. It always makes me feel productive, excited, and relaxed.

Today it didn’t. I’m working on a novel that is to be my thesis for a master’s degree. I got through the first draft ok and have been spending the summer doing research and figuring out how I want to shape the novel in the second draft. I’ve gotten started on the prologue, which includes a story within a story.

The first few pages went well, but today I was working on the story within the story and nothing was working. I moved parts, I cut parts, I added parts and it just seemed to get more and more cluttered no matter what I did. I wanted to quit, but I couldn’t stop because I can never stop until I figure out how to smooth things out. But nothing was working and there was no fix in sight.

Normally when something doesn’t work I try something completely different. But I’ve tried many approaches and now I know that this is the beginning of the novel. The novel depends on this story to set the tone, the world of the novel, the characters, everything. I couldn’t give up on it because everything that comes after it depends upon it.

And then I realized that the reason the story felt cluttered no matter what I did was because, guess what? It was cluttered with too much information. Surprise! I struggle with short stories and always tend to give my plots too much room to breathe, and I was doing it again. That’s why I’m working on a novel now. I never expected to struggle with keeping things brief in a novel, but that is exactly what I realized I needed to do.

When I began rewriting I was excited to include all of my research, but it just felt clunky. So I realized that the story within the story needed to lead from point A to point B quickly to advance the overall plot of the novel. I love to make things complicated, and I was doing that with the two page story within the story. It had subplots, the subplots had subplots, and the central conflict was the result of multiple dilemmas. It was just too complicated.

So I cut out the complications, figured out how A led to B, and then tied it all up. It’s not perfect, but it’s something I feel comfortable enough with now to revise tomorrow and then move on from there.

And how does art imitate life in this situtation? Well, it’s simple: Keep it simple. Keep it concise and clear.

I’ve always been more thoughtful than emotional and I’ve been trying to learn to follow my heart over the past few years. Recently my heart led me to quit my job and move to Canada. Now my life is split between countries, I’m looking for a job, and my future seems both limitless and impossible. I need to learn from my writing frustration which is probably mirroring my real life frustration of being unemployed and making a new beginning from scratch. I need to keep things simple. To focus on one thing at a time and be at peace with the fact that sometimes it’s better if point A goes directly to point B with no deviations in between.